Thursday, November 27, 2008
Museum of Islamic Art
Rising out of the calm, azure waters, the stone reaches out and catches the moonlight revealing an obelisk, mounted on an island, floating on the waves. An artistic masterpiece, symbolising the treasures buried within. The building epitomises centuries of Islamic history, from Cordoba, to Damascus, from Baghdad to Isfahan, from Fatehpur Sikri onward to Samarkand – the muse having been the thirteenth century Sabil (ablutions fountain) of the ninth century mosque of Ahmed ibn Tulun in Cairo.
Walking upon the palm-lined bridge, across the moat, the gentle sea breeze hums a lullaby to visitors who are hypnotised by the perfect twin reflection. Almost in a trance, they drift through the arches, the waters following, opening out to windows beyond which the distant city lights across the bay flicker as a reminder that they’re still in the 21st century. The vast open space of the atrium draws images of the warm desert sun upon the endless dunes, beckoning you to uncover its secrets. Looking up your eyes are mesmerised by the striking modernity of the flying carpets - transparent bridges as lookout points from the floors above. Looking below, the geometric Alhambra-style fountains lend a calming effect. The suspended circular oriental lamp, bearing resemblance to the lamp that hangs in the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, forming a perfect arc across the hall, and above that is the magnificent dome, mirroring the sculptural grandeur of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The atrium opens to soothing greenery as you look out through the oculus. The spectacular architecture and design are only hints of the splendorous habitants of this all but humble abode.
The capacious collection attests to Islam as not only a religion, but a culture, spanning continents and embracing the unique traditions of the varied peoples and places. Housed together, they beckon you through the Anatolian walnut carved doors, call to you with words of welcome – Ahlan wa Sahlan – taking you on a magical journey through time and space; revealing passages from the Book of Secrets; inviting you to meet Maliks and Sultans; navigating your way through seas with the astrolabe; paging through the manuscripts of old; unsheathing the ancient Ottoman scabbards; drinking from the fountainheads recovered in Madinat-az-Zahra and reclining on Shirazi silks; adorning the jewels of the Mughals and reading tales from the Shahnama.
In a world in which Islam is denigrated and the rich history and traditions are gradually eroding, the Museum of Islamic Art creates “a bridge between the past and the present, between the east and the west” – a heritage that cannot be lost! It stands as an attestation to the vision that the leadership of Qatar has to preserve Islamic heritage and culture and follows shortly on the launch of the Quranic Botanical Gardens, that will grow plants mentioned in the Holy Quran, cited in the sayings of the Prophet (SAW) and reflected in Arabic traditions, and bearing the landscape and design of traditional Islamic gardens.